How to Build and Improve Media Relations: Best and Worst Practices

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Over 80% of journalists believe communication professionals should learn more about a media outlet before they pitch. You do not need to know them personally, of course. Fortunately, there are useful ways and media tools that might help you improve your media relations.

So how do you build and improve your media relations to win journalists’ hearts and make their work easier? Let’s look closely at how to achieve this in today’s competitive PR market.

Here are 5 key elements that should be applied methodically to every PR campaign to demonstrate your professionalism and persuade the media to work with you:

But before we dive in, download our free media pitching guide that will guide you through the PR process and assist you with your work holistically. ⤵️

Media relations tips

The Foundation: Start with a clear strategy

Launching a PR campaign without a clear strategy is like getting dressed in the dark. Sure, you could get by, but the end result won’t look very tidy. 

Instead, for every PR campaign you create, document your PR plan before you even begin building your contact database. You can’t communicate effectively without first understanding what you’re selling, why it has a unique value in the current marketplace, and who you need to share this message with.

It can be as simple as a one-pager, but determine and record:

  • What makes your client or company special
  • Who their potential customer is
  • Where that customer learns about new products (get specific about types of magazines, podcasts, blogs, and social media influencers)
  • Why the media should cover your product or service
  • When you launch the campaign, and how long will it last
  • How success will be measured for your PR campaign (e.g., number of mentions, influencer collaborations, specific media mentions)

The Players: Build your team

If you’re lucky enough to have an agency or in-house team, it’s time to get everyone on board with your campaign strategy. Media relations rely on a clear, consistent message, so you’ll want everyone on the same page.

This is especially true if you’re team pitching. You’ll want every team member well-versed in the product’s benefits, the company’s values, and the campaign’s desired result. 

Start each PR campaign with a kick-off meeting to review your strategy, answer questions and elicit and listen to feedback. If you can’t sell your own team on the viability of your campaign, how will you sell it to the media? 

Integrate team feedback into your strategy to finalize it, and then confirm buy-in from all involved with the campaign. 

Have a detailed plan to document and share team notes – details are everything in building valuable media relations.

This will not only help you keep track of all your interactions with each of your contacts, but it will also give your team some hints on who’s speaking with whom about what. This is particularly useful for teams working with the same media lists.

Media relations protip: If a journalist you’re in contact with is going on holiday next month, note this fact so that next time you speak with them, you’ll remember to ask how the trip was. Using a PR CRM, you can easily add notes, tags, and team comments. See how Prowly can help you manage media relations more effectively →

Prowly PR Software - Contact Card

Finally, remember to include adjacent marketing professionals working with the client outside of the PR sphere. Social media strategists, ad managers, content writers, and even sales teams should be aware of and up-to-speed on your PR campaign. Partnering efforts will only amplify your messaging and offer you a greater chance of success. 

The Story: Write to compel

With a strategy in hand and the ability to envision your target audience, you can now begin to create your brand story. Most often, this takes the form of a press release.

Get creative, but follow the basic tenets of public relations writing and media techniques:  

  • Entice with an exciting headline.
  • Summarize the key points quickly in the opening paragraph.
  • Follow up with details and spokesperson quotes.
  • Provide contact information for follow-up questions and requests. 

And avoid vague “smoke and mirrors” language at all costs.

For example, consider using general statements like, “We’ve proudly implemented a revolutionary new certification system that will turn the industry on its head.” A journalist may read your press release and hold some interest but wonder, what does that really mean?

If the journalist can’t easily understand your main points quickly, and you fail to provide supporting evidence and details quickly, the reader surely won’t understand it either. If something as simple as this statement, a journalist may simply pass on the story instead of chasing clarifications and details.

Instead, blend a clear narrative with specific details like any great storytelling. Imagine that you’re outlining the article for the journalist and offering up all the pieces they’ll need to win over readers with a compelling headline and a newsworthy article.

Outstanding book press releases, for instance, offer readers a captivating preview of what’s to come, carefully avoiding spoilers. On the other hand, sports press releases require concise, “twittable” quotes and statements from athletes. The language has to be tailored to the journalists’ expectations.

Finally, never underestimate the power of a great subject, proper research, well-prepared materials, and interesting language (both spoken and written). These are the basic success factors when it comes to better-than-average media relations. Make it a habit to triple-check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Pass your writing along to your teammates for critical feedback and editing. 

The Influencers: Find your people

Your hands are now burning with this white-hot, newsworthy press release. It’s time to get it in the hands of the editors, bloggers, and influencers who will bring your brand story to the masses. 

To find just the right people to reach out to, you’ll need to:

1. Understand who you’re pitching

Time and time again, editors point out that nothing says “I’m lazy” more than receiving an email pitch for a topic they don’t cover. Once you’ve written your press release, you should know immediately which types of media contacts you’ll want to reach out to.

Media relations protip: With Prowly, you can access a Media Database with over a million contacts and use smart contact recommendations based on the contents of your press release. This way, you’ll always pitch relevant journalists who will likely be interested in your story.

Prowly's Media Database

If this is the first time you’re sending a press release to a certain publication, take the time to do your research. Look at their website and see where the story could fit. Who are the journalists writing similar articles? Which ones have covered your competitors before?

Building a media relationship is worth learning the special, small details. These can be found in many instances by following the editor’s social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. 

This attention to personal interests can get you closer to piquing their interest. Are they urban activists? You won’t want to suggest topics related to a difficult investment. Are you planning to invite journalists to participate in a meat producer’s event? Don’t reach out to journalists who promote vegetarianism on social media.

If you’ve created a media list, include notes in the document to help you remember what you’ve discovered, and don’t forget to update them often.

2. Focus on the right people

Those with longer careers in the PR industry remember the days when “media relations” meant actually meeting journalists to chat over coffee. Nope, there’s not much time left for such activities these days; there are more titles on the media market and more journalists to connect with.

You don’t need to know everyone, just the right people. Focus on fortifying relationships with the media and influencers that really matter to your brand. Automatic contact search is not bad and can be helpful, so invest in media databases whenever possible.

And whether or not you know the media contact well, follow basic PR best practices like sending press releases when they’re most likely to be seen. Research shows that the best time is between Monday afternoon and Thursday morning. If possible, try not to send emails on Friday (unless the deadline for a journalist’s request is on that day).

3. Avoid things that can disqualify you immediately

You must always assume you’re reaching out to a journalist with an overflowing email. Technology makes it easy to communicate on a mass scale in no time, so the media need to weed through their emails quickly in search of the most promising pitches. Your email needs to survive this process if you even want a chance to share your news.

Several things can get your email trashed immediately:

  • You don’t visit the journalist’s website to learn what they write about and miss the opportunity to customize your pitch just for them.
  • You suggest a topic that concerns something the journalist doesn’t write about, showing a lack of interest in knowing them.
  • The content you want the journalist to publish has already been published elsewhere (even worse, a while ago!)
  • Your provided content fails a plagiarism check.

This is why it’s imperative that you carefully select, research, and track your media communications. If this isn’t naturally your strong suit, the next tip is just for you.

4. Track and measure your media outreach with a PR CRM 

It’s tempting to send pitch emails from Gmail or Outlook, but you lose trackability. You can’t follow up effectively without knowing if they even opened your initial email, and journalists don’t appreciate questions like “Did you get my e-mail?” This can easily hurt your media relationships.

Instead, use a robust PR tool like Prowly to control your media contacts; see who opened your email, who clicked over to your online newsroom, and who didn’t receive your email at all. It makes the follow-up process much easier.

Example of how to follow up with Prowly

The Numbers: Measure your success

At this point in your campaign, you’re ready to measure success. This is where all the work you invested in your initial PR strategy comes in. 

Since you set clear and measurable goals, such as sending samples, conducting interviews, or gathering event attendees, you can now compare these numbers against your final results. 

If you made or exceeded your goals, well done! But if you didn’t meet your benchmark goals, that’s OK, too. Because you went into your campaign with a clear and methodical strategy, you and your team can confidently review the results.

Together, you can determine your campaign’s weak spots, investigate whether you got the media contact list just right, and share notes on recurring journalist questions that might point out that your press release wasn’t clear enough.

You’ll be armed with more guided information and clear corrections for your next campaign, which is a big win in itself.

Also, if you happen to be in the interviewer position, check out this guide on how to conduct a terrific interview, with over 28 online and in-person tips to use.

Conclusion: How to build and improve media relations

To sum up, 5 key elements create the framework you should apply to every PR campaign:

  • The Foundation: Start With a Clear Strategy
  • The Players: Build Your Team
  • The Story: Write to Compel
  • The Influencers: Find Your People
  • The Numbers: Measure Your Success

Following this structure builds and improves media relations because it demonstrates your professionalism and care as a PR professional.

And if you’re looking for just a few key actionable takeaways to improve your media relations today, here are the top media relations tips summarized:

  • Always take time to research which journalists will be interested in your story – look at their personal websites and social media accounts to confirm
  • Create a detailed system of recording editor notes when team pitching is taking place
  • Apply the basic rules of great storytelling to choose an enticing subject and use interesting language (both spoken and written)
  • Make sure you triple-check for any grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes
  • Make use of a PR tool like Prowly to stay in control of your relations with important media contacts

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Cover photo by Priscilla Du Preez